Quick update: Radiation has begun
Updated: Jun 8, 2019
Since my last post, I officially finished chemotherapy!!
I attended my radiation planning appointment where I got to lie down in the radiation simulator, and a mold was made of my head, neck, and arms so that each day I can be placed in the same position. I was given 5 tiny permanent tattoos to make sure I can be lined up perfectly (Andy's first words were, you have more tattoos than me now), and x-rays were taken of me holding my breath from all angles, and then of me not holding my breath in all positions to determine which will keep my heart and lungs safest during the radiation treatments. Because the breast cancer was on my left side, we have to worry about the radiation potentially damaging my heart, so we needed to determine if the "breath hold technique" could benefit me and my ticker.
On Wednesday of this week, I started radiation therapy. From the images taken during the planning session, it was determined that holding my breath moved my heart just enough to be out of immediate danger from the radiation beams (are they beams? I'm not really sure). Apparently inflating your lungs also makes them less likely to scar, so that is another bonus. So, all that yoga breathing is now officially coming in handy! Today I counted that I have to hold my breath about 8 times during each treatment and a couple of the breath holds are for 30 seconds or more. "Take a deep breath in and hold.....ok, now you can breath." That is what I hear over and over through the intercom in the room. There is a sensor taped to my stomach that measures my breathing so the machine will not deliver radiation unless my breath is held at the right level. Sometimes the tech will say, "take a deep breath in and hold....let a little bit out," or, "a little deeper" because it is that precise. The second day while I was lying on the table, half naked, and feeling a bit chilly, the 90's Natalie Imbruglia song, Torn, came into my head. I changed the lyrics to fit my current situation, "I'm cold and my breast's inflamed, lying naked under the radiation core." I know it doesn't really have the same rhythm, but I entertained myself while I was holding my breath and being radiated!
The machine itself looks like a big robot as it spins around me changing positions and delivering ionized radiation in precise locations. My entire left chest wall area, and lymph node regions (armpit and clavicle) are being treated. This is meant to prevent the tumor from coming back and for any potential remaining cancer cells to be zapped (although I'm hoping having a years worth of chemo took care of that already). I kept expecting laser beams to shoot out of it or something, but instead it just hums a little while the radiation is being delivered. Sometimes I can feel a little heat coming off of it, but nothing other than that. And, usually within about 15 minutes or so, I am done. I have completed 3 sessions out of total of 33 so far. I have to go in everyday, Monday-Friday, until May 17th.
So far, I haven't experienced any side effects besides some soreness in my left arm from having to hold it in an awkward position above my head during the treatments. The first day was about 30 minutes of lying perfectly still since they had to take a bunch of measurements and more x-rays. I was pretty stiff after that. I have been slathering on lotion at the recommendation of my online support groups, because one of the major immediate side effects is burning and tenderness of the skin. Moisturizing helps prevent this. Also, radiation effects are cumulative, so right now I have pretty low doses in my body, and over time that will build. So, I am happy I am feeling fine now, and we will see how it goes. Also, no need to worry, I am not radioactive (I asked already).
We gave up on the house search, and officially signed the cancellation documents to take our house off the market. We are relieved that the stressful search is over, especially now that I am running back and forth to the hospital every day!
Andy's birthday is tomorrow (or today, I should say). We have been celebrating all week. Tonight we went out to a fancy french restaurant with an amazing five course tasting menu with wine pairings. Thanks to family who made birthday and #mystomachbucketlist donations, we were able to splurge! It was amazing.
I have been posting a lot of updates to instagram lately, so if you don't have an account, or don't follow me, I put a link to my public page on the homepage of this blog. Once my master's paper is complete, I hope to build my own website with better features and links, but until then this will have to do.
Oh, and I registered to graduate in May. And, I decided I am going to walk in the graduation ceremony so I am picking up my cap and gown tomorrow. I figure, I was planning to walk before cancer, so why not after?! It is a big accomplishment and it will be a way to celebrate and feel closure. The ceremony will be May 20th.
I think that is all for now. Goodnight.